Gas prices making people angry – but at least there’s a bit of variety!

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

One thing The Leader has learned in nearly 50 years of covering local news: don’t bug fuel retailers about their prices. It’s a waste of time, because the price at the pump is dictated to them by factors out of their control.

Or is it?

Whatever the case, there’s a lot of annoyance (maybe putting it mildly) around the area lately and around Alberta right now over the price of a litre of gasoline. In much of the province it was $1.89 as of early last week when (most of) this story was written. And the old complaint about northern locations being gouged wasn’t holding up, because it was pretty much the same in Calgary. There were some very unhappy campers in that city, and it might have been their complaints that led Premier Jason Kenney to talk about investigating the situation.

The Calgary Herald reported that retailers in that city were taking 32 cents profit per litre, as compared to eight cents (said other reports) on average in Vancouver, and a usual average of about 12 cents per litre in Alberta.

Word got around recently that two of Slave Lake’s bulk fuel cardlock stations were selling regular gas for around $1.50 per litre. Both the stations told The Leader last week it was simply a reflection of the wholesale price they paid for particular loads of fuel – what’s called the ‘rack’ price. The author of a letter to the editor in this week’s Leader also refers to the ‘rack’ (wholesale) price, which he says varies daily and geographically.

Indeed it does, and that’s why nobody should get used to the lower prices at the cardlock dealers. Or, for that matter, at Fas Gas ($1.69.9 on July 25) and Speedee Mart ($165.9 on July 25). It could be that those companies had taken the decision to sell at or even below cost to bring in more customers.

All the rest of the retail stations in Slave Lake on July 25 had regular posted at $1.89.9, except for the Esso at 7-11, which had taken the bold move of going down to $1.89.4.

Word from one of the cardlock managers (who preferred not to be quoted) was that their formula for pricing hasn’t changed in a long time. This suggests the profit margin on a litre is the same as ever. Maybe you should ask the retailers why their prices are so high, he said.

That’s what Premier Kenney says he plans to do.

In the meantime, enjoy $1.50 (or maybe $1.45) per litre fuel while it lasts. And (says the same guy), if you want to fill up, please sign up and get a card of your own. Otherwise, it’s hardly worth the effort in staff time and paperwork, given the tiny profit margins.

“We work our pricing on big volumes and low margins,” he says.

The day after the above was written, prices started going down pretty much across the board (Maybe due to the Kenney threat?). The general price was down to $1.79 per litre of regular, with Fas Gas and Speedee again being the mavericks. Fas Gas was at $1.59.9 on July 27, and Speedee was a couple of cents below that. A call to the Speedee owner had not been returned by press time, but he’s known for deliberately being the lowest among the Slave Lake retailers. Which of course, suggests what the fuel company dictates is not necessarily what the station has to charge.

Shell and several others dropped by a dime last week. Photo taken on July 27.
Speedee on July 27. Making sure it was a couple of cents below its nearest competitor.
Fas Gas – the second lowest in town on July 27 – not counting the bulk stations, whose prices aren’t posted, but are rumoured to be around $1.50 per litre of regular.
This was the price of a litre of regular gas at most stations on Monday, July 25.
The Speedee Mart Husky, also on July 25.

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